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La Mei was aghast, looking at Tang Fan like she was looking at a ghost.
It wasn’t just her; everyone else was completely shocked by those words.
With how observant Wang Zhi was, he knew that Tang Fan was right via one look at La Mei’s expression.
He looked at her stomach in disbelief. “Is that true? How did you know?” he asked.
Tang Fan didn’t care to answer him, continuing to pay attention to the changes in La Mei’s expression. “You’ve been Junior Lady Zhou’s servant for many years. It would have been impossible for you to betray and frame her, if you didn’t have some cause. Was it to protect someone behind you? Who is he? The father of your child?”
La Mei had seen spectacles like this several times before, where one would be forced into an impasse from being interrogated with successive questions. All she could do was continuously shake her head, wanting to refute, yet not knowing how to start doing that. She hadn’t been a well-spoken person to begin with, habitually reticent and putting on just enough of an affect to be inconspicuous. Now that Tang Fan had broken that, when others thought carefully about her, they felt that there truly was something off.
Seeing her lower her head and say nothing as if she had steeled her heart to hiding it until the very end, Wang Zhi slightly lifted his chin.
A warden immediately understood him, assuming a posture like he was going to draw his blade and stab La Mei in the stomach.
“Were this strike to go down, you won’t be able to keep the child inside you. If there’s no treatment in time, there might even be one corpse with two lives.”
The Western Depot could handle someone like this with ease, of course.
As expected, her entire face turned deathly pale at that statement. Entire body beginning to tremble, she bit her lip, tears falling down like rain.
Tang Fan and Wang Zhi patiently awaited her mental collapse, but Lady Lin wasn’t able to hold back for long. She threw herself over, then raised her hands to slap the other several times in succession with both hands, hitting until blood flowed out of the corners of her mouth and her cheeks both swelled, cursing as she did so. “Don’t you already have an engagement with the son of a front courtyard manager? Is this wild seed his? Did Lady Zhou make you do it? Speak! Speak!”
Her son’s tragic death had made her heartbroken and hysterical.
Just for the sake of questioning the murderer, she firmly restrained her breathing, unlikely to go as mad as she had before.
Tang Fan and Wang Zhi both frowned slightly. Before they could say anything, Han Fang had already come forward to lead her away.
“Miss Xuan, Miss Xuan! Calm down, wait for her to speak!”
“Lord, my heart aches! Ah-Zao was so cute and thoughtful, how can they bear it?! How?!” she wailed, falling into his arms.
“I know, I know!” He also looked pained, patting her back and quietly placating her while he passed her off to her maid to lead away.
Tang Fan looked at the stunned-speechless La Mei. “Is it Han Hui?”
She jolted a bit.
He decided further on his own conjecture. “The father of your child is Han Hui.”
Wang Zhi had a faster reaction, giving a direct command as soon as he heard Tang Fan’s words and saw La Mei’s expression. “Go and bring Han Hui over at once!”
“Understood!” The Depot workers took their command and hurried off.
“How did you deduce that La Mei and Han Hui had an illicit relationship?” he asked Tang Fan.
“When we came to the home last time and met with Han Zao’s boyservant, do you remember the very first thing he said?”
Wang Zhi didn’t understand him. “Why would I remember that? What did he say?”
Tang Fan sighed. “When the boyservant saw us with Han Hui back then, he said, ‘Eldest Lord, you finally came!’ What does that show? It shows that before then, Han Hui had never gone to see the servant, and that was his most glaring giveaway! As you know, Han Hui said himself that he and Han Zao were close as brothers, and he had watched him grow up. His brother is now dead, the reason for it unknown, but on the day the servant saw Han Zao off to the palace, Han Hui never went to interrogate him about how his little brother died after Lady Lin locked him up. Doesn’t that not make sense? There’s only one possibility for that; Han Hui knew well why Han Zao died, but didn’t want to meddle too much and expose his own flaws, so when she locked him up, he acted like he knew nothing.
“Furthermore, when he was talking to us, he intentionally drew the topic towards Lady Lin, then took advantage of when we went to meet her to make us see her unstable personality with our own eyes. That would provide credence to her having a poor temper as well as many enemies in the Han family, which made it quite plausible that someone had moved against Han Zao because they were unhappy with her. Thus, from the very beginning, we would inevitably believe that his death had pertained to conflicts between inner-residence women, especially with the existence of one like Junior Lady Zhou. Lady Lin and her have no shortage of enmity, and her late husband had been a doctor; she fulfilled every condition.
“However, I said long before this that there are many causes in this world with trails to follow. Do nothing, and no mistakes are made. Do too much, and too many mistakes are made, revealing all the more clues; if you want people to know nothing, there’s nothing better you can do than nothing at all. Han Hui had prepped all the evidence to convict Junior Lady Zhou in a tidy fashion, even taking it upon himself to place the needle right under our noses for us to find. How could there ever be something so perfect beneath these skies?
“Following that, the last time we came here, I noticed that La Mei frequently did this little movement where she would touch her lower abdomen from time to time. When does anyone do that? If your stomach is upset, you’ll constantly be rubbing it. If your head hurts, you’ll constantly be feeling it. What about the lower abdomen? Could it be that she had a stomachache? Her face had looked as fine as ever then, though. Plus, when she saw Junior Lady Zhou being taken away, she didn’t dare to go block it, as if she was afraid of getting pushed and bumped. It’s not difficult to make the association with careful observation.”
What did he mean, ‘not difficult’? Wang Zhi inwardly curled his lips at Tang Fan’s seemingly self-effacing remark.
He believed his own observation power to be absolutely terrific, but even he hadn’t taken notice of those details.
In other words, some people were divinely preordained for occupations like this.
(Wang Zhi would never admit that he had some admiration for Tang Fan.)
With all of that said, Tang Fan looked towards La Mei again. “Isn’t that right? Someone find a female doctor so that we can know for sure.”
“And have her get rid of the child while she’s at it,” Wang Zhi coldly added from the side.
Only now did La Mei genuinely get frightened, tears flowing without cease. She seemed to want to throw herself forward, but was being firmly held back by the Depot wardens, so she could only look at Tang Fan and implore him. “No! Sir, I’m begging you, spare me! Spare my child, it’s innocent!”
He stared at her. “Is it Han Hui’s?” he asked.
“…Yes.” She seemed to lose all her strength with that one word, going weak.
“If you want lenient treatment, you need to explain everything in its entirety.”
Since the first step had already been taken, the next ones were nothing to be embarrassed about.
Wiping away her tears, she began to recount the events of her getting familiar with Han Hui.
Following her widowdom, La Mei had gone with Junior Lady Zhou up north. She had been nothing more than a little maid from a little family that knew nothing at the time. Lodging under the Han roof with her Lady, there was no longer any need to be worried that the young widow would be harassed by others, but large families had large influence — the conflicts inside it were many.
The Young Lord of the second branch, Han Hui, was educated and of gentle nature, yet he suffered from having an adoptive mother like Lady Lin. She always nitpicked him greatly, even believing that he had been sent by his grandmother to monitor her, which made their mother-son relationship terrible.
La Mei had seen too many instances where he was trembling in fear before his mother, softly trying to calm her, and couldn’t help but pity him. Every once in a while, they would meet by fate, exchanging a couple words. She got her very first love, and he got feelings for the pretty maid.
Over time, their relationship developed, but then Junior Lady Zhou obeyed her aunt, thusly engaging La Mei to someone in the front courtyard. The former believed that she had gotten a good marriage for La Mei, but, unbeknownst to her, the latter’s heart had long been given to someone else.
After La Mei learned of this, she was thunderstruck, then went to find Han Hui.
He wasn’t merely messing around with her, either; he wanted to take her as a proper concubine. With her status, she obviously couldn’t be a primary wife, which she was also well aware of. Being his concubine wouldn’t be a letdown.
Against expectations, a higher-up suddenly promised her to someone else, immediately putting the two of them in a bind. He couldn’t go seek out Lady Lin for something like this, because he knew that not only would she not help him get out of this, she might also loathe La Mei on account of her status as Junior Lady Zhou’s maid. While Han Fang did genuinely cherish him, he was a man, and it wouldn’t be good for him to meddle in household affairs. He thus went straight to the family’s matriarch, who was also Han Qi’s wife and Junior Lady Zhou’s aunt: Lady Zhou.
Lady Zhou didn’t like those of the second branch, so she didn’t agree to his request to take La Mei as a concubine. Because of concerns he had, he never once mentioned that they already had hidden relations…
Alright, no more gossip. No matter what twists and turns were in the hearts of these young lovers, nor whatever they thought up to rectify this, the bottom line was that they had a significant relationship.
When she came to secretly liaison with him during this period, she noticed that something was a bit off about his behavior. He refused to explain after repeated questioning, so she merely believed that he had been senselessly scolded by his mother again, comforting him for a time.
Then, he asked her a few things about the acupoints of the human body. She suspected nothing, both teaching him how to recognize some points and finely explaining some of their taboos. Being clever, he retained things pretty much as soon as he learned them, and he learned them very meticulously, even getting clarification on how many cun the needle needed to go in. She had asked him what he was learning this stuff for, and he answered that his mother’s health was poor, so he wanted to learn some acupuncture. Then, he might curry favor with her, getting rebuked less.
Some days later, she had been shocked at the realization that her monthly hadn’t come for two months. Junior Lady Zhou’s late husband had been a doctor, and she knew medical theory herself, which La Mei had absorbed from following her around all the time, to the extent that she could prescribe for common ailments. She, of course, knew that she was not ill, but pregnant.
At that moment, Han Hui had suddenly come looking for her, asking her to hide a needle in Junior Lady Zhou’s room.
La Mei hadn’t experienced much, but she wasn’t at all stupid. She had to question why he would do that.
He refused to tell her at first, so she had to share with him that she was with child.
After the initial amazement, Han Hui finally explained a bit of the issue to her, but not everything. All he said was that this was Han Zao’s cause of death, and that the palace was sending someone to investigate, possibly coming to search the Han family in short order. That was why he needed her help with this.
One party was her Mistress, and the other was her child’s father. In quite a difficult position, she ultimately decided to go along with Han Hui.
Hence, they had found the needle in Junior Lady Zhou’s room.
Her courtyard was for women only. Even children like Han Zao couldn’t come and go from it frequently, to say nothing of Han Hui. Only people like La Mei that lived there could rush in whenever they pleased, and place the needle there before Tang Fan’s group dropped by.
All these events strung together due to her explanation, the truth finally getting revealed.
At this moment, one of the people previously dispatched by Wang Zhi to arrest Han Hui returned. “Chief Eunuch, when we subordinates went to arrest him at the Imperial College, the punk had heard the word on the wind ahead of time and fled! Several of us are already chasing him, while I came to report this to you!”
Wang Zhi’s face sank. “You’re all trash! You can’t catch one weak scholar that doesn’t even have the strength to wrangle a chicken?! If you don’t chase him down, there’s no need for any of you to come back!”
The other was so browbeaten by him, he didn’t dare to say anything.
Lady Lin suddenly broke free of Han Fang’s supporting arm, shoving him roughly. “You see? You see?!” she bellowed. “Back when your mother said that we had to adopt Han Hui, I disagreed! Now look! We raised a white-eyed wolf that took Ah-Zao’s life with it! Why don’t you go and ask her if she’s satisfied with seeing how broken our family is now?!”
She cried as she sneered. “How innocent my Ah-Zao was! He treated Han Hui like his own big brother, but had no idea that that brother wanted him dead! As for my madness, it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t endured torment from your mother and sister-in-law! Your family is no place for humans to live! It killed my Ah-Zao!”
That said, she charged forward again in want to strike La Mei, but was obstructed by the Western Depot. The other party didn’t dare to use much force, so they could only get tangled up with her where they were, making a momentarily chaotic scene.
“Haven’t you made enough of a mess?!” Tang Fan shouted, his voice overwhelming the spectacle’s noise.
Lady Lin had to stop her actions, looking over at the sound’s source.
“Madam Han,” he said to her, “even if the murderer has now been found, my duty here has come to its end. The rest of the work is all for the Han family to do. I shouldn’t be sticking my nose in this, but you keep saying Han Zao saw Han Hui as his big brother. What about you, then? Did you ever see Han Hui as your own son?!”
He took a deep breath. “Everything that happens in this world has a cause, and a result. When he was adopted by you, he was a toddler who was just barely able to walk. Was he already learned in how to distinguish between good and bad, benevolence and evil back then? If it weren’t for your prejudice against him because of your mother-in-law, your refusal to teach him properly, your blind blame heaped on him when anything happened, and even your abusive words, how could Han Hui’s heart ever be at peace once Han Zao was born, and he compared how you invariably pampered him as opposed to himself? How could he not think of that? The dissatisfaction within him accumulated over the years, turning into resentment, even hatred, which culminated in a moment of hysteria where he plotted against his younger brother. This was his mistake alone, of course. Murder is a crime, and national law dictates that it be punished by beheading… but can you really absolve yourself of this? The reason why this all came to be today is something you need to ask yourself; would it still have happened, if you had treated them the same from the beginning?”
She stared at him blankly. Her hands were held up in midair, maintaining their recent posture of being about to slap La Mei, but were slow to land.
Her expression fluctuated. Confusion, abhorrence, remorse — all sort of emotions appeared on it, one after the other, intertwining into an even more complex expression.
Human hearts were concealed with skin. There was no way for him to know whether she actually did feel a tad of regret towards her past conduct, but he did see her slowly lower her arms, cover her face with both her hands, and let out a quiet sob.
Han Fang sighed, pulling her into his arms. “What happened today is also my fault,” he said, grief-stricken.
Of course he was at fault. As the Emperor’s teacher, however, it wasn’t suitable for Tang Fan to assign too much blame to him. At this point, Wang Zhi gave him a look, and then they walked out.
Once outside, Wang Zhi grinned. “Since Junior Lady Zhou has been proven innocent, I’ll release her later, but La Mei needs to be brought in for questioning. As for Han Hui, once he’s found, things will have come full circle. You really didn’t let anyone down on this, solving it so quickly and neatly! As soon as I get Han Hui’s confession, I’ll send a memorial up reporting your merits. Promotion to the next level will be no problem then, to say nothing of anything else!”
Tang Fan wasn’t smiling, though. “Do you really think this has come full circle?” he countered.
Wang Zhi put away his smile, glaring at him coldly. “Yes. The murderer is found, the case is closed. It’s done,” he said pointedly.
The other sighed. “Why should you lie to yourself? No matter how competent Han Hui is, there’s no way that he would happen to know that on the day of Han Zao’s murder, Consort Wan would coincidentally be sending soup over. Furthermore, he’s not someone from the palace, so it’s impossible for him to have ever gotten inside it. He must have had a correspondent on the inside. Who might that palacegoer be? Don’t you think that there’s a lot of strange parts to this, and that the investigation should continue?”
Wang Zhi nodded. “I’ll do a followup, but it’s going to be the Western Depot’s business after this. You don’t need to worry about it anymore. Just wait for your promotion to be decreed with peace of mind.”
Tang Fan understood. The other clearly wanted to shelf him for easy coverup, should something be found that no one should know about.
Seeing that he didn’t answer, Wang Zhi continued. “Tang Runqing, don’t learn too much about things you shouldn’t. As an official that’s been doing this for a long time, I think you’re agreeable as a person. Don’t imitate those repulsive civil officials!”
Tang Fan spread his arms. “You shouldn’t have made me investigate this in the first place, then. If I haven’t guessed incorrectly, the attendant Yuan Liang at the Crown Prince’s side and the maidservant Fu Ru at Consort Wan’s side are both suspicious. If you’re determined to investigate them yourself, will you be able to ensure that the final result is within your control? Were Consort Wan to learn of this, she would infer from Yuan Liang’s connection to the Prince that the latter wanted to use Han Zao’s death to frame her, then go cry to His Majesty. Have you thought about these things?”
“How could I not have?! Don’t say it like you’re the only one thinking about the Prince!” Wang Zhi raged. “Were you, an outside official, to interfere with this, there’s no way she wouldn’t know. The best method would be for me to secretly check out the palace beforehand!”
“I never said that I was going to interfere,” Tang Fan answered innocently. “Why are you so riled up?”
Wang Zhi was not happy. “You’re the worst!”
“This shouldn’t have anything to do with the Prince, but it’s hard to say that certain people won’t painstakingly try to implicate him after they learn of this. Please be careful, Eunuch Wang.”
“I know! I know!” Wang Zhi said impatiently. “You’re a minor Judge, it’s not your place to worry about this stuff! If I wanted to disadvantage the Prince, why would I have recommended you to start with?!”
Since the other knew the score, Tang Fan said no more.
The reason why Wang Zhi had previously wanted to downplay this was because he was afraid of some implication to the Consort or Prince happening behind the scenes. Of the two sides, one was his former master, and the other was the Prince; he didn’t want to offend either of them. Since this was proven to be unrelated to both, though, Tang Fan trusted that he would be able to process it impartially.
The Depot wardens that had gone to chase Han Hui quickly captured him. The man, anxious from the pursuit, had planned to jump into the river, only to get kicked right into it from behind by his pursuers. He was no swimmer, thrashing about for a long time in the water before he let the wardens fish him up, putting this to its end.
Since La Mei’s corroboration was had, he couldn’t refute anything. His testimony was very similar to Tang Fan’s guesswork.
At the very beginning, he had been contacted by Yuan Liang. Han Hui couldn’t enter the palace, but he did see Han Zao off to it, and certainly could have had a chance to run into Yuan Liang when coming before its gates. The latter had learned from Han Zao that Lady Lin was horrible to Han Hui, so he enticed him to get rid of Han Zao, saying that he could cover for him due to his connection with the palace.
Han Hui was completely taken aback at first, and resolutely refused. Yuan Liang hadn’t pressured him, but the other was still on edge for several days after he returned. When Yuan Liang never brought the matter up again, his heart was not only not at peace, but growing all the more restless.
Han Hui never dared to go talk to Lady Lin about La Mei, but she had seen him talking to her multiple times anyways, so she berated and insulted him several times over. His many years of gathered indignation finally exploded, and he sought Yuan Liang out of his own volition to consent to his plan.
What happened after went completely as expected.
Yuan Liang and Han Hui communicated in advance to come to an agreement on the date it would happen. Han Hui went to Han Zao’s room the night before, wanting to sleep together with him. They weren’t brothers of the same mother, but Han Zao had highly respected him; if he hadn’t, then he wouldn’t have complained in front of Yuan Liang about his mother’s poor treatment of his brother, causing him to know about the Han’s troubles.
Back on topic, after Han Zao heard that Han Hui wanted a sleepover with him, he agreed enthusiastically to it. The difference in age between the brothers was fairly big, but they normally had a good relationship, where Han Hui would occasionally come chat and nap with him. No one thought much of it, nor expected that he would take this opportunity to calculate the time Han Zao would get up, then stick the needle in his shuifen acupoint.
The needle was extremely thin and short, so even if it entered the point, it would be stopped over in the surface skin for a time. Then, in the wake of Han Zao getting up, putting on his clothes, and moving around, it was bound to gradually move deeper into the body, eventually causing tragedy.
However, Han Hui had only initiated the action at Yuan Liang’s say-so. Regarding what happened after Han Zao entered the palace, or what chance Yuan Liang had exploited to cover up for him, Han Hui had no idea in the least.
He had committed the crime of fratricide due to momentary delirium, grudges attacking his heart. The Great Ming’s law had very many clauses, so there would inevitably be one tailor-made for him — but as Tang Fan had said, this matter was far from over. Why had Yuan Liang colluded with Han Hui? Was it his own idea, or inspired by someone behind him? And how did he coincidentally know that Consort Wan was going to deliver mung-lily soup that day? Was there another meddler in the form of the maid, Fu Ru? What had she done it for?
Many riddles still had yet to be solved, but he was now intentionally powerless. Due to what had been said previously, Wang Zhi would not be giving him any chances to stick his hand in this. When the murderer hadn’t yet surfaced, he could still go in and out of the palace in the name of investigation, but Wang Zhi would now refuse to accompany him in doing so again. Unless the Emperor ordered it, it would otherwise be fully impossible for him to enter a restricted area at will with his status as a trifling Shuntian Judge.
If anyone else had gotten to this stage, they would regard this as a perfectly completed assignment, but Tang Fan felt like it was half-finished. Even so, he wasn’t the one in control, here. After exiting the Western Depot, he went straight home.
During his running all over the place these days, he couldn’t take any consideration for eating a few bites of rice. Once wound down, anyone would feel particularly exhausted; he was no exception. The sense of disappointment he felt was especially heavier when he returned to find that Ah-Dong was gone and Sui Zhou still wasn’t back yet.
The latter not being back was expected, because he had purportedly gone to Jiangxi to specially oversee some case. He had left in such a hurry, that Tang Fan hadn’t asked for details.
Ah-Dong, that little girl, had gotten used to living here. After she made friends with the neighbors, her heart went wild, since there were a couple girls her age next door that she played well with. Their elders would invite her over to eat at their house. Sui Bi was pretty close to her, too, making the wee girl seem like she was innately good at connecting with people, an aspect that was extraordinarily similar to her big brother, Tang Fan’s.
(That last part was one that Mister Tang had shamelessly tacked on himself, of course.)
Tang Fan had regularly been missing from home lately, his three meals not at set times. Ah-Dong was lonely in the vacant, three-courtyard complex, so it was inevitable that she wouldn’t be able to resist running off to call on her little playmates. As a result, he happened to come back early today, yet there was no one around to cook him food.
Seeing that the kitchen had no smoke rising off of it, he was disappointed to an even greater degree.
He had lived alone before, but hadn’t thought anything of it then. Now that he was used to the sensation of being part of a family, he felt disheartened upon suddenly returning to his bachelor life.
Lamenting that it was easy to go from thriftiness to extravagance, but hard the other way around, he went behind the kitchen to see what food Ah-Dong had left behind.
After rummaging around, he luckily managed to rummage out a dish of delicate nuomici with mung-sesame filling.
They had already gone cold, but that didn’t ever matter for pastries. He was too lazy to start up the stove himself (and even if he really had to cook, he wouldn’t be able to), so he just ate the nuomici while drinking plain water.
His stomach having been empty to begin with, eating something hard-to-digest like glutinous rice along with fluid caused the rice to inflate in his stomach, which made it start to hurt in no time at all. Choking wordlessly in pain, he sat there, debating on if he should go see a doctor, or just bear with it until the real ache had passed.
Then, the outer door of the courtyard got knocked on.
He was forced to stand, clutching his stomach as he went to the door.
He had thought it would be Ah-Dong, but as soon as he pushed it open, he saw two unfamiliar young women.
The one in front that knocked was a young maid, and the one behind her ought to be from a well-to-do family. She wore a pink, straight-collared beizi with narrow sleeves on her upper body, and a pink, pleated horseface skirt on her lower body, charming as she stood there.
He was somewhat surprised, but they were even more so.
The maid took a few steps back, looked up at the signboard, then muttered to herself. “It’s not the wrong place…”
“Who are you two looking for?” he asked.
“Centarch Sui. He doesn’t live here anymore?”
He gave an oh. “He does, but he’s been on an abroad mission lately. I’m a friend that lives with him. If you want to find him, you should come back in a few days.”
The maid was quite lively, her eyes scanning all around. “What friend of his are you? Why haven’t we heard of you before?”
He was donned in a light, sky-blue cotton shenyi with a silk belt tied around his waist, but he had been lazy; after changing his clothes when he got home, he didn’t use a jade pendant to weigh down his clothes and whatnot like was popular these days. Added onto his pained face due to his stomach, he looked like a down-and-out scholar that had repeatedly tried and failed the exams. It was pretty difficult for someone to link him together with a Dynasty official.
Evidently, the maid was suspicious towards his self-claim as Sui Zhou’s friend.
The lady behind her furrowed her brow slightly, seeming to take Tang Fan as a thief that had broken in while the owner was away. “May I ask your name, good sir? My cousin* loves solitude by nature. Why would he invite you to live with him?”
Mister Tang was a bit exasperated. He wasn’t universally loved or anything, but he had never previously come across a situation where he was disdained.
Besides, was anyone ever born liking solitude? Were it not for circumstances in the Sui home, Sui Zhou likely would have never moved. From that sentence alone, he could tell that this cousin of his didn’t understand the man at all.
“My name is Tang Fan. I’m assigned at Shuntian Prefecture. Because I couldn’t find housing, I had to rely on your cousin’s help, which is why I’m living as a guest in his house for the time being.”
Since he had stated his identity, the maiden’s suspicious expression loosened a little. “We’ll return, then, and wait a few days for him to come back. I’ll trouble you with informing him that I came looking.”
“Is your surname Zhou, Miss?”
He knew that Sui Zhou’s maternal grandmother had a son in addition to his mother, and because he was appointed elsewhere, his family had moved with him. Now, they were here — maybe they had come back to the capital to visit their elders, or were preparing to settle down.
It was clearly unsuitable for him to ask more after it, though. “Rest assured, Miss. I’ll pass the message on to Guangchuan when he gets back.”
The maiden mn’ed at first, then was a bit shocked. “You call him by his courtesy? He lets you?”
“Aren’t courtesies just what you let your peers call you? Why is that so surprising?” he wondered.
She blinked. “He’s naturally isolated. I’ve rarely seen him interact with any friends. Looks like you have a great relationship with him!”
He smiled, not wanting to talk anymore. “Alright, then.”
From what he had seen, Sui Zhou’s circle of friends definitely wasn’t broad, but he was in no way reclusive or anything. Plus, he had that batch of subordinates in the Bastion Office that he needed to tame into obedience, so if he really was ‘naturally isolated’, he would never be able to handle them. At most, he was reserved with his words, did things cleanly and tersely, and appeared to be a bit cold.
The girl seemed to be brimming with curiosity, asking him a lot of questions pertaining to Sui Zhou. With his smarting stomach, he had no energy to deal with her, his typical smile and speech that were like cleansing spring breezes gone.
Noticing his half-assedness, she eventually got a bit displeased, glared at him, then turned and left.
The maid quickly chased after her, not neglecting to turn her head and glare at him, too.
He felt that a bit ridiculous, but couldn’t care right now, as his stomach came to ache more and more during that interval of gab.
He was in so much pain, that he had to hold the doorframe as he bent down to sit right on the sill.
Swift footsteps sounded in front of him. He raised his head to see some people from the Western Depot.
“No matter what urgent task you all have, I can’t walk right now,” he said weakly.
He pledged to never eat nuomici on an empty stomach again.
The translator says: Bad brother, 0/10, you deserve the beheading you’re getting.
* The specific term is biaoge, an older male cousin from the matrilineal line. That was why Tang Fan thought to ask if her surname was Zhou.